(NEW YORK) -- The summer movie season began late Thursday with what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest blockbusters of 2013: Iron Man 3.
For the fourth time, Robert Downey Jr. fills the role of Tony Stark and Stark's Marvel alter ego, following the previous two Iron Man films and The Avengers.
Iron Man 3 picks up where The Avengers left off, with the superhero group having saved New York from destruction at the hands of Loki. The sequel introduces a new villain: a terrorist known as The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley. The Mandarin destroys Stark's personal world, leaving Stark to seek revenge.
Iron Man 3 also features the return of Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's female sidekick and love interest, Pepper Potts; Don Cheadle as Stark's friend, James Rhodes/Iron Patriot; and Jon Favreau as Stark's bodyguard and chauffeur.
The cast also includes newcomers Guy Pearce as a bad-guy scientist and Mandarin ally Aldrich Killian, and Rebecca Hall as botanist Dr. Maya Hansen.
Favreau directed the first two Iron Man films, but the third movie in the series was helmed by Shane Black, who previously worked with Downey on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Iron Man 3, which is screening in 3D and in IMAX theaters, is rated PG-13. It's the only new movie in wide release this weekend.
The film has already grossed over $300 million overseas, and it set an opening-day record in China on Wednesday by raking in an estimated $21.5 million, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Hollywood.com box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian predicts Iron Man 3 will make about $170 million in the U.S. this weekend, a total that would represent the second-biggest domestic debut ever, behind The Avengers, which surpassed the $200-million mark in its opening weekend last year.
One reason Dergarabedian expects it to do so well: the reviews. He says, "The critics are enjoying this one in a much more profound way" than they did Iron Man 2.
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